The Belfast Soup Kitchen is a non-profit organization dedicated to feed those who are experiencing food insecurity, not only in the city of Belfast, but across Waldo County. The Mission of the Belfast Soup Kitchen is to provide a safe community where the guests can find food, comfort, and hope for the future in an atmosphere of dignity and respect.
For 20 years St. Francis Church supplied volunteers and most of the cash contributions to feed the hungry in the Belfast area. St. Francis became part of a cluster of churches (St. Brendan the Navigator Parish) in 2009 and financially could no longer support the operation of the soup kitchen.
The Belfast Soup Kitchen was formed as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in 2010. The original board members were community members who could not stand by and see people go hungry. From humble beginnings in the basement of the “Red & White” building, the surge in guests seeking food and comfort, dictated that a new, permanent home was needed to accommodate the demand. After three years of searching for a suitable space to rent, the Board of Directors concluded that the most efficient long-term solution was to build a new facility. In 2019, construction began on the new Belfast Soup Kitchen, located at 31 Belmont Ave in Belfast. In June of 2020, after experiencing some challenges and delays due to the pandemic, the Belfast Soup Kitchen opened its new building. Even though we completed our facility, we have not yet been able to welcome guests inside.
It is the spirit of service that has continued to be the primary motivator for the growth of the soup kitchen and the organization over the past 10 years.
Today, the Belfast Soup Kitchen is the only full-time operating soup kitchen in Waldo County open 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year serving those in need across Waldo County.
The Belfast Soup Kitchen has done a lot with a little. The Soup Kitchen began as an all-volunteer organization. It eventually hired two full-time staff members. An Executive Director was hired in 2020 to expand our services to keep up with the growing needs in our community. Members of the Board have worked with local organizations and businesses (Belfast City Council, Belfast Rotary, United Midcoast Charities, Belfast Chamber of Commerce) to solidify community support. In 2020, the Belfast Soup Kitchen was the recipient of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce 2020 Business Growth Award, indicating the widespread local support that exists for the organization.
The vision of the Belfast Soup Kitchen is to eliminate chronic hunger for the people and families Waldo County not only by offering nutritious food, but also connections to resources and educational opportunities to mitigate the associated circumstances surrounding food insecurity.
The Belfast Soup Kitchen not only provides a nutritious and appetizing hot meal daily, but also distributes bread, meat, baked goods, shelf stable pantry items, and fresh produce to guests to combat food security. Prior to COVID, service began at 10:30 with a “coffee hour,” where guests could socialize over coffee and pastries in a bistro style setting, as well as help themselves to grocery items to take home. At noon, guests would receive a nourishing meal, cooked, and served by a dedicated team of community volunteers in an atmosphere that encourages conversation and support. Things have changed, however, with the COVID pandemic, as we follow the CDC guidelines. To keep our staff, volunteers, and guests safe, and avoid a closure, which would have a significant impact to our community, the Belfast Soup Kitchen has had to increase and enforce strict COVID safety measures. Although we can no longer offer a “coffee hour” and guests inside, we continue to serve delicious take-out meals curbside and outside distribution of groceries to all our guests.
As the crisis endured, we saw the need continue to grow and expanded our services to meet the increased demand. With the assistance of dedicated volunteers, we instituted a delivery program to provide seven days worth of meals and supplemental groceries to homebound veterans and elderly shut ins. As many of Maine’s children were already food insecure, we collaborated with the local school district and expanded our reach to provide seven days worth of breakfasts and lunches to students learning at home without access to school meals they previously received.
Additionally, Belfast Soup Kitchen has sponsored the distribution of the USDA Farmers to Families Food Boxes in collaboration with Waldo County Bounty, Waldo County EMA, and Waldo Community Action Partners, dispersing over 4,200 boxes monthly across Waldo County, including our neighbors on Islesboro.
The Belfast Soup Kitchen provides emergency food boxes as well to those who find themselves in unexpected need. Individuals and families not only come directly to our organization for this service, but are also referred by area general assistance offices, case workers, and law enforcement agencies.
The BSK also provides access to wrap around services such as SNAP, WIC, fuel assistance, rent relief, health and mental health services, housing assistance, transportation, emergency services, and nutrition information services through collaboration with several local agencies and organizations. Our community partners engage with our guests and meet them where they are through scheduled and requested visits to the soup kitchen. Collaboration exists with services provided by Belfast Public Health, City of Belfast General Assistance, Waldo Community Action Partners, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, SNAP-Ed, Maine WIC, Mid-Coast Transportation, food pantries across Waldo County, and area law enforcement.
Our organization meets the needs of working families, unemployed, senior citizens, veterans, mentally and physically impaired, children, and homeless of Waldo County. The BSK serves all guests that come, with no qualifications, in an open and welcome atmosphere that provides an opportunity for a sense of community in a non-judgmental environment. Maine ranks 12th in the nation and 1st in New England for food insecurity. Waldo county is slightly worse than average in Maine, 13% of Americans live in poverty, versus 16% in Waldo county. Prior to COVID, 20% of children in Maine were food insecure. Due to present circumstances, over 25% of children in Maine are now food insecure. Over 215,850 individuals across Maine are without sufficient access to food, and 37% of Maine’s food insecure population does not qualify for public assistance. It is no surprise then, that the Belfast Soup Kitchen has seen a sharp rise in recent years of guests visiting the soup kitchen.
In January of 2020, the Belfast Soup Kitchen served 1,904 meals for the month, or an average of 95 meals per day. At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, we started to see an increased need. By January of 2021, the Belfast Soup Kitchen served an average of 280 meals per day for a total of 5,598 meals for the month.
If this trend continues, as we suspect it will as individuals and families continue to cope with the effects of the pandemic, the Belfast Soup Kitchen will serve over 66,000 meals in 2021! In perspective, from 2015 to 2020, the number of meals served has jumped from 14,000 to over 38,400 per year.
The Belfast Soup Kitchen will succeed by:
-Culturing compassion for those we serve;
-Treating our guests with Dignity and Respect;
-Providing a safe and affirming environment;
-Encouraging support and involvement from the larger community;
-Maintaining stewardship and transparency in the use of our donated resources.